|[People on the West Bank reacting to news of the ZPC.]|
Zombie pub crawls can be terrifying experiences. But they’re interesting, too. It’s not just a another case of “life imitates art imitates life imitates a frat party.” Zombie Pub Crawl also represent the return of repressed urban crowd. It’s a night when dead cities come back to life, when mindless mobs take back the streets to haunt the land of sidewalks. In spite of the brainless antics, the Zombie Pub Crawl is a good thing. Zombies are the ultimate pedestrians, and crowds are what make cities alive.
The Pub Crawl that Will Not Die
|[Yes, it really is scary.]|
When Carik and three friends started the crawl in 2005, it was the party of the year. But as time passed, their creation mutated into something bigger than anything they could have imagined, peaking in 2011 with more than 27,000 zombies in attendance. The organizers' growing perturbation with the event is evident in how they have chosen to name it over the years: In 2009, they titled it "It's Starting to Stink." In 2010, it was, "It Just Won't Die."
This Friday, they are expecting between 30,000 and 40,000 attendees — more than six times bigger than what Guiness defines as the world record for largest pub crawl. The culmination of nine months of planning, the event will take two cities,13 bars, 200 volunteers, and 202 port-a-potties to pull off. There will be a 50-foot inflatable zombie. DMX will be there, as will the Gin Blossoms.
Throw an unlimited supply of alcohol in the mix, and a real zombie apocalypse might be more manageable.
"Every day I get up and it's Zombie Pub Crawl until I either have to go to bed, or I can't sleep because I'm trying to go to bed and I'm stressed about it," says Ackerman. "We have nightmares about zombies, but just that we're not entertaining them."
You know the story: smug urban hipsters create ironic pub crawl. It goes well; they chuckle and bask. More zombies appear each year. Young people emerge from suburban enclaves nobody had remembered about. Then somehow, one dark night, thirty thousand zombies arrive. The joke isn’t funny anymore. The creators are destroyed by a creature of their own making. This is what Facebook Frankenstein looks like. The bloody irony of Taylor Carik’s predicament is delicious.
Years ago, when the Zombie Pub Crawl was nothing but a few West Bank punks doing karaoke and messing with cars, I wrote about how much I liked it:
It's a well-known fact that Zombies, re-animated human corpses, are mindless. They tend to move, slowly and stumblingly, in the vague general direction of brains, on which they feed.
What isn't well known is that, because of their slow-moving and heedless perambulation, Zombies make the perfect gauge of good sidewalk and neighborhood design. They wander aimlessly, and don't hesitate to stumble into the street. Being already dead, getting run over isn't a big concern for a zombie. So, if they can travel from pub to pub in search of brains without getting run down by speeding drivers, anyone can!
So, wherever Zombies dare not fear to tread, you can be sure that those streets have excellent sidewalks
Sure, the Zombie Pub Crawl has changed since then. It’s turned from a funny joke into a terrifying mass of libidinal suburbia freed by facepaint, fake blood flowing down the sidewalk like the snot-goo in Ghostbusters 2. But, maybe that’s OK. Then and now, the Zombie Pub Crawl illustrates the purest form of pedestrian freedom, the walking body incarnate. Brainless people ambling down the sidewalk, given permission to take over the streets by George Romero.
Here are three reasons why you should stop worrying and learn to love the zombies...
|[A Minneapolis American Legion convention in 1924.]|
History is filled with urban crowds overthrowing those in power. This revolutionary history may be one reason why Western philosophy has long associated urban crowds with brainless destruction, while solitary individuals have come to define rationality.
The best example of this is the French political theorist, Gustave Le Bon’s book, The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. When it came out in 1895, Le Bon's argument was an exceedingly popular condemnation of people in groups. Crowds, he argued, transformed otherwise sensible people into irrational emotional animals, driven only by instinct.
Crowds are "always unconscious, but this very unconsciousness is perhaps one of the secrets of their strength." People in crowds are "beings exclusively governed by instinct [...] driven by feminine characteristics.” A crowd “thinks in images” rather than in rational words. Crowds spread like diseases, erasing one’s free will until “an individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will.” In other words, crowds are zombies.
Well, crowds are also the hallmark of urban life. Picture the state fair, a parade, or a football game. How many of your most cherished memories involve being swept along by a crowd, feeling part of something bigger than yourself. We feel most alive where surrounded by others: cheering a rock band, going to the theater on opening night, doing the wave at a ballgame.*
For too long, we’ve privileged the idea that we are at our best in silent, lonely contemplation. We’ve embraced the assumption that density has no benefits. We’ve designed cities for privacy, suburban castles that become islands of isolation. Well, that has to change. Cities are crowds, and crowds can be a positive force, filled with feeling. It’s OK to let that happen. It’s OK to be part of a crowd.
The second hallmark of the zombie apocalypse is that it takes you by surprise. In the recent zombie classic, Shaun of the Dead, Shaun stumbles through his morning routine blissfully unaware of the changes lurking around him. It's another wonderful visual zombie joke.
Our notion of politics seems to imply that change is slow, consistent, and methodical. The return to the city, for example, will take decades. Little by little, people will start re-populating our sidewalks. With each new condo or streetcar, our urban centers will slowly come back to life.
Well, that’s not how the zombie apocalypse happens. Instead of a linear progression, the Zombie Apocalypse is exponential. It seems to happen all at once. One year there are a few dozen zombies, then a few hundred... Then there are thirty thousand, and you’ve completely changed the city.
That kind of change is exciting, especially for young people. I don’t want to wait thirty years for my city to have street life again. Change can happen faster than that. Like the cyclovia movement, or the Times Square redesign in New York City, the zombie pub crawl is a good example of how streets and cities can change suddenly, can leap full force into an unknown future.
|[Pumpkins in St Paul.]|
Of all the holidays that we celebrate in the USA, Halloween is the most urban. Most holidays are wrapped in domesticity. Thanksgiving and Christmas and most everything else are filled with images of privacy and home: living rooms and backyards and Norman Rockwell family dinners.
Halloween is completely different. It’s the one day a year where parents actually encourage their children to wander the city taking candy from strangers. Instead of cringing, people actually look forward to the doorbell ringing. Everyone onto the sidewalks! Kids, explore your neighborhood! The city comes to life.
This kind of urban society is important, and not just for kids. Adults deserve Halloween too. So many young people don’t get to experience urban space. Our city streets are abandoned most of the time. Our downtowns were once filled with crowds, with parades, with people of all ages bumping elbows. Today, they're shadows of their former selves. Today, we’re trapped in cars, in far-flung homes marooned without sidewalks. The closest we get to an urban experience is the checkout line at Trader Joe’s.
The Zombie Pub Crawl isn’t just a funny joke about stumbling drunk people. It taps into our deep seeded need for urban life. The Zombie Pub Crawl celebrates the best urban holiday with a return of the repressed urban crowd. It's an almost revolutionary change in our streets. Sure, it can be scary. But maybe it's the first stumbling step toward a new kind of city. Maybe the revolution will be zombified.
* Damn you, people doing the wave at the ballgame.